questions about composition

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anyte

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What are people's feelings and opinions about objects that extend horizontally across an image - like a bridge. Should the object be level with the horizon?

What about foreground and backgrounds? Should the subject definitely be in either the immediate foreground or perhaps background (such as mountains) to make it stand out?

On a bit of the same note. Is it considered bad form or too distracting to have bushes, trees, or tall grass in the foreground?

I know they are somewhat vague questions and that "everything is subjective" but I would appreciate opinions.

Thank you.
 

mikeb_z5

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anyte,
I was just wondering the same thing as I currently have a bridge pic in the standard gallery(crappy scan but it is a bridge). I look forward to the replies on this one :smile:

mike
 

Leon

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what ever you think looks best. Everyone elses' opinion on composition are exactly that, just opinions. I think it's best not to worry too much about conventions on composition.
 

127

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I'd agree with leon, that shoot what works for you.

However since you asked, my $0.02 would be:

If a bridge looks horizontal then you're standing in the middle of a river (or a train track). I don't like shooting stuff square on, and would move to get some perspective going. Then the lines of the bridge draw you into the photograph.

Foreground/background and subject are all abstractions. A photograph only has a subject when someone looks at it - the camera just records the scene. You can either choose to make one aspect stand out, or give the viewer more choice.

A single branch or leaf is an intrusion, but a tree or bush is simply another part of the image. Foreground objects place the photographer (and viewer) within the scene, and gives a sense of place. If used well then they're good. Just make sure it looks deliberate, rather than accidentaly allowing folliage to intrude on the edges of a scene.

Like I said at the begining, there are no rules. I'm no expert, but thats what I would do in those situations.

Ian
 
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anyte

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Thank you everyone. I know it's all a matter of opinion - these are things that were brought up in critiques of a photograph of a bridge that I posted elsewhere. The critiques were not at all favorable.

I think I'll post the photo in the gallery here.
 

juan

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As a general rule, the horizon should be level. Depending on the angle of view, the bridge may or may not appear level, but if the horizon is level, the bridge will be convincing.

Unless, of course, you want it to be unconvincing.

I don't photograph subjects, so I'm not able to offer a suggestion there.

As for the foreground, again the general rule is that whatever is there should be in focus. Unless you don't want it to be.
juan
 

noblebeast

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Anyte,

With the bridge scenario there are no absolutes. Since you are shooting 35mm you have the luxury that large format shooters can ill afford - you can burn shots experimenting. Try it a number of ways: bridge level, horizon level, as many different angles as you have access to. Keep notes on what you're doing, if it will help you. Then compare what you did with the results on the film - this is part of the learning process, and then the next time you are looking through the viewfinder at a bridge you will feel a lot more confident about how you want to compose the shot. It may come down to deciding to use the bridge to mask the actual horizon.

As far as foregrounds and backgrounds, first you decide where your main subject resides. If it is in the background, then the general rule of thumb is that whatever is in the foreground should lead the viewer's eyes to the main subject. If the main subject is in the foreground you must first decide how much background you want to show. The main problem in my own compositions like this is that I never get close enough and end up with too much background - when in doubt move in closer. Something to become aware of is that our eyes are amazing machines that make all kinds of adjustments to what we end up thinking we are seeing, while cameras and film are much more limited and just basically record what's in front of them. That sometimes presents huge discrepancies between what you thought you were photographing and what you get on the final print. That's why Ansel Adams and everybody down through our own Les McLean talk about Pre-visualization. A simple definition of that term is "learning to see the way your camera does. That is accomplished by going through lots of film. Yes, it helps to read the books and attend the workshops and take classes, but in the end you do all your real learning about composition with the camera in your hand. But on the other hand it is good and necessary in the beginning to observe the various helpful hints like the Rule of Thirds - you have to know what the rules are before you can throw them out.

The only other idea about composition that will be really useful to you right now, and is related to the Rule of Thirds, is avoid the "bullseye" approach - putting the subject dead-center in the frame. That is often the first step from taking snapshots to making photographs. I hope some of this is useful to you.

Joe
 

jovo

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Composition is an area of photography that I think is too often sloughed off with the comment: "Whatever works." And that's true....but being consistant with achieving that which works should be a highly regarded skill. I've learned volumes from my wife, a painter, about various kinds of perspective, weighing and placing values, leading the eye, fine tuning areas of local contrast etc. that are anything but the consequence of happy accidents. This forum, in fact, dwells far more on the technical aspects of film and developers etc, than on matters of composition and printing that affect the final outcome to an equal or greater degree. So...among the many books that take on the subject, I recommend "Black and White Landscape Photography" by John and David Collett (Amherst Media, Inc.) as a decent volume worth reading. Your specific concerns are addressed therein as are many (but not all, unfortunately) quotidian elements of successful composition that every photographer should understand well enough to even be able teach should the occasion arise. Good luck!
 

rogueish

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Fore/back ground can be kept in focus if it relates to the subject and helps lead the eye. (converging/diverging lines) Keep it out of focus if it is "clutter" (distracting). Sometimes the background just out of focus so not be distracting, but in focus enough to tell what it is is a nice effect and helps viewer to relate (Kid on a swing with slightly out of focus kids playing in the backgroud)
Fill the frame (viewfinder) and you'll have less to crop in the darkroom. Don't try to include everything your eye sees. Just doesn't work.(for me anyway).
Bushes, trees, fences, lightpoles can often be used to "frame" the subject. Effective for land/cityscapes.
Most importantly -for every rule, there is an exception- except this one... :wink:
 

mark

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Theories of composition are quite varied. If you show your pictures to people you want them to experience them. The whole picture, not just part. There are general rules and they are well known, but they too can work against a photograph if they are not used in a way that compliments each other. A curved road should not lead away from the subject as it draws the eye away and so on and so forth

If it were me:
I would place the bridge above or below the horizon makeing it echo the horizon as a repeating line.

Bushes are great to have in the forground as they can be interesting. Unfortunately they can also clutter the view forcing the viewer to look only at the bush. Personally I thik this means making it very dominant and huge. Use the branches to frame with or point to the repeating lines of the horizon and the bridgethis should lead the viewer around the photograph.

My two cents
 

Mateo

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I think it's a bad idea to learn rules about composition. It's better to learn what effect elements of design have on you and how they relate to what you want to see. Level bridges crossing the format are painfully calm to me but then maybe sometimes I want to make a painfully calm picture. Quit composing subjects and start looking at forms and values and most of the rules worthy of mention will automatically be followed.
 
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